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“Paracelsus: Selected Writings”

Reading metaphysical texts from the Renaissance period is challenging, and the challenge is often compounded when the text is alchemical and symbolic in nature. For this reason, I approached this text with a little trepidation. But I was pleasantly surprised to find it much more accessible than I had expected.

In order to better understand the text, some basic biographical information may be helpful.

Paracelsus (1493/4 – 24 September 1541), born Theophrastus von Hohenheim (full name Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim), was a Swiss physician, alchemist, and astrologer of the German Renaissance.

He was a pioneer in several aspects of the “medical revolution” of the Renaissance, emphasizing the value of observation in combination with received wisdom. He is credited as the “father of toxicology”.

He also had a substantial impact as a prophet or diviner, his “Prognostications” being studied by Rosicrucians in the 1700s. Paracelsianism is the early modern medical movement inspired by the study of his works.

(Source: Wikipedia)

I won’t spend a whole lot of time discussing Paracelsus’ medical writings from this book. But I will mention that he seemed to practice a form of holistic healing, treating the body and the spirit at the same time to promote optimal results. This is an idea which I personally embrace. I think spiritual and emotional unease manifests in physical ailment, and vice versa. Anyway, that is all I want to say regarding the medical aspects of this text.

The alchemical selections in this book I found fascinating. Paracelsus explains alchemy as the symbolic purification of the human soul.

Man must bring everything to perfection. This work of bringing things to their perfection is called “alchemy.” And he is an alchemist who carries what nature grows for the use of man to its destined end.

(pp. 92 – 3)

For the Great Physician created the ore but did not carry it to its perfect state; He has charged the miners with the task of refining it. In the same way He enjoined the physician to purify man’s body . . . from which purification man emerges as indestructible as gold.

(p. 94)

Paracelsus believed that the next phase of human evolution would include an embrace of the mystical arts. He saw the next generation of humanity as one that would embrace spirituality and turn away from worldly trappings.

Know that man makes great discoveries concerning future and hidden things, which are despised and scoffed at by the ignorant who do not realize what nature can accomplish by virtue of her spirit . . . Thus, the uncertain arts are in such a state that a new generation must come, full of prophetic and sibylline spirit, which will awaken and direct the skills and arts.

(p. 132 – 3)

He then goes on to assert that God’s power is hidden within nature, and that it is in nature where humans must search for divine power.

For God has given His power to the herbs, put it in stones, concealed it in seeds; we should take it from them, we should seek it in them. The angels possess wisdom in themselves, but man does not. For him wisdom lies in nature, in nature he must seek it. His harvest is stored up in nature. Through nature God’s power is revealed to man, through nature he enters into his Father’s heritage, in wisdom and in the arts.

(p. 164)

Finally, in the era of Twitter and social media, where people are wont to write whatever they want with little or no thought, Paracelsus reminds us of the divine power of the written word.

The Scripture says: the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life . . . That is to say, the spirit which bears nothing but the truth in itself. If a man adheres solely to the truth in his writings, it is not mere letters that he writes; it is the spirit that he sets down in its truth, the spirit that is invisible in itself and that must come to us through the written or spoken word . . . But if a man does not write the truth, he writes lies; and the letter that is a lie kills. Therefore let any desirous of writing be careful to keep always to the truth, that he may kill no one. For to kill is forbidden under the penalty of forfeiting eternal life.

(pp. 165 – 6)

I realize that this book is not for everyone. But if you are interested in the metaphysical, it is worth reading. You can certainly see the influence Paracelsus had on later thinkers in the area of mysticism.

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Neil Gaiman’s “Miracleman” Issue #6

Miracleman_06

This issue concludes the Golden Age. The first issue of the Silver Age arc was supposed to have been released this month, but I heard from my friend at the comic store that it has been delayed and no word on when it will be out. Alas…

Anyway, this issue, like the others, is very surreal and leaves you with a heavy feeling, oscillating between hope and despair. At the end, people take hold of balloons and float up to the heaven, a symbol of transcendence and separation of the soul. The words are exquisite and worth including here.

I drift upwards, perfectly, unspeakably happy. I see the city, spread out below me like a child’s toy; its streets and lanes thronged with more people than I have ever imagined. And one by one they rise to join me. Magical, glittering children fly among us, laughing and darting like will-o’-the-wisps. I weigh nothing. It’s like a dream; a dream of love and perfection. Some of us call out to each other, happy, near wordless cries of good fellowship and joy. I watch the sun setting in slow flame, painting the low summer clouds with light. I watch it; a huge orange balloon that seems to fill half the sky. It commences to sink below the horizon; and as it does, its last rays catch the stray clouds, silver and mauve and grey; transmute them into ruby and amethyst and gold. Purest, most perfect, eternal gold.

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Poem #11: “I never told the buried gold” by Emily Dickinson

EmilyDickinson

I never told the buried gold
Upon the hill — that lies —
I saw the sun — his plunder done
Crouch low to guard his prize.

He stood as near
As stood you here —
A pace had been between —
Did but a snake bisect the brake
My life had forfeit been.

That was a wondrous booty —
I hope ’twas honest gained.
Those were the fairest ingots
That ever kissed the spade!

Whether to keep the secret —
Whether to reveal —
Whether as I ponder
Kidd will sudden sail —

Could a shrewd advise me
We might e’en divide —
Should a shrewd betray me —
Atropos decide!

I struggled with this poem. I read it a few times and was still not completely certain what Emily was trying to convey. So I focused on the image of the gold, or the treasure, and tried to figure out what it could symbolize. The only thing I could come up with was that it was a metaphor for religious teaching, particularly the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount. And the more I considered the poem from this perspective, the more it made sense. Christ’s teachings were presented in parables, with the truth hidden below the surface. And when you consider that the gold was buried upon a hill, then the idea of the treasure being the hidden meaning of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount makes sense.

Then I thought about the pirate, or Captain Kidd. It seemed likely that the pirate represents priests, who took possession of Christ’s teachings and wanted to be the keepers of the treasure, to be the sole guardians of the truth. But Emily had seen the treasure, and knew the truth herself. So now she is in a quandary—should she keep the secret or spread the truth? It seems that she found a compromise; keep the treasure hidden within her poetry but available to those with the wisdom to understand.

It seems at the end, Emily wonders whether her choice was the right one. She decides to let Atropos decide. Atropos is one of the Fates, so she is leaving it to fate to judge whether she was right or wrong. In my opinion, she was right.

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“To Lord Byron” by John Keats

Keats

Byron, how sweetly sad thy melody,
Attuning still the soul to tenderness,
As if soft Pity with unusual stress
Had touch’d her plaintive lute; and thou, being by,
Hadst caught the tones, nor suffered them to die.
O’ershading sorrow doth not make thee less
Delightful: thou thy griefs dost dress
With a bright halo, shining beamily;
As when a cloud the golden moon doth veil,
Its sides are tinged with a resplendent glow,
Through the dark robe oft amber rays prevail,
And like fair veins in sable marble flow,
Still warble, dying swan, —still tell the tale,
The enchanting tale—the tale of pleasing woe.

Keats wrote this sonnet when he was just 19 years old. In my opinion, it’s not a great poem, but having said that, it is worth reading because we can see the beginning of what will later develop into his poetic genius.

Keats is expressing his admiration for Byron, particularly Byron’s ability to express sorrow through beauty, something Keats would later excel at. Byron is clearly an inspiration to the young poet, and you can learn a lot about artists by understanding where they drew their inspiration.

There are some truly gorgeous images conjured by this poem. My favorite is the image of the veiled moon that Keats describes as golden instead of the usual silver.

As when a cloud the golden moon doth veil,
Its sides are tinged with a resplendent glow,
Through the dark robe oft amber rays prevail,

Where this poems falls short, in my opinion, is in the language and the structure of the verse. It feels forced when you read it and the lines do not have a natural flow and rhythm. I found it very difficult to get a sense of the cadence. Still, for something written so early in his life, it’s pretty good. Certainly better than any poems I wrote at that age.

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